Tragically, many dead yellow-eyed penguin adults were found on Otago Peninsula beaches and in breeding areas from mid January to the peak in early February 2013. By 8 February, 25 adult yellow-eyed penguins had been found dead. By 15 February the total had risen to 56, all of which were sent to Massey University for examination.
Yellow-eyed penguins in the Catlins and North Otago have not been affected, nor other sea birds and marine mammals.
Early suspicions that heat stress was the cause of death were discounted, and by 4 February a bio-toxin of some kind was suspected. As of 7 March, toxicology results are so far inconclusive, but more tests are being carried out. Although some other agent such as a virus or bacteria may be involved, the Massey vets still think it is some kind of marine bio-toxin.
Trust staff and volunteers checked the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust Reserves of Okia and Otapahi during the weekend of 16 and 17 February. To the Trust’s relief, no further dead yellow-eyed penguins were found.
Checks, however, continued over the following weeks so that any chicks found could be weighed and, if underweight, taken to the hospital at Penguin Place for feeding to reach a reasonable fledging weight. While many chicks have fledged and gone to sea, some are still in the vicinity of their nest sites and may be losing weight, especially if one or both parents have died.
Since the peak of the adult penguin mortality, only two freshly dead adults have been found – on 19 February and 3 March – bringing the total of dead adults to between 60 and 65. Further beach and breeding area monitoring is ongoing.
A spate of adult yellow-eyed penguin deaths occurred on Otago Peninsula during late-January to mid-February. The explanation for this is unknown. Many chicks were also affected. About a dozen were found starving or losing weight because one or both of their parents had died.
Penguin Place, a private conservation reserve on the peninsula, gives rehabilitation care to penguins that are sick, starving or wounded.
Penguins are normally transported to Penguin Place in cat cages but, in this case, there weren’t enough cages for the twelve chicks. Fortunately, the Otago SPCA, based in the Dunedin suburb of Opoho, came to the rescue with five cat cages, and the chicks were safely taken from the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust reserves to their temporary home.
Posted on February 25th, 2013 No comments
View this article from the Otago Daily Times: http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/247056/penguin-postmortems-could-strain-budgets
The cost of discovering what killed nearly 60 yellow-eyed penguins on Otago Peninsula could put pressure on tight conservation budgets.
The threat to the colony appears to have eased in the past week. Only one dead penguin was discovered in that time by Department of Conservation, Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, private landowners and volunteers who are regularly monitoring nesting sites.
Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust general manager Sue Murray said as testing so far had failed to pinpoint the cause. More extensive testing would probably be needed.
”To get to the bottom of this, we’re going to need technical expertise and we have to buy in these services at huge cost.”
It was vital to find the cause of the deaths so if it happened again the trust understood how to manage or mitigate the problem, to save penguins’ lives, she said.
”The financial strain is huge.”
So far the testing had been funded by Doc, the Ministry for Primary Industries and Massey University.
The trust was helping out in other ways, as it did not have the capital reserves to inject into the problem, Ms Murray said.
”We’d be looking for an injection of external funding in a crisis situation.”
Doc biodiversity programme manager Dave Agnew said, as it was an unplanned event, funding for the laboratory testing was coming out of existing budgets.
The costs of testing so far had not been too expensive, as only three penguins had been tested, but further testing would come at a cost, as more toxins or agents would need to investigated. Doc was taking its lead from Massey University staff, who were advising the department on what testing to do.
It was hoped when all the results came in, a paper could be written bringing together all aspects of the ”mass deaths” so those involved in caring for the penguins could learn from the situation.
Doc had a contract with Massey to undertake postmortems on native species, so those done on the penguins had not resulted in additional costs.
Investigations to determine the cause of deformities in penguin chicks on the peninsula a few years ago cost about $10,000, Mr Agnew said.
Posted on February 13th, 2013 No comments
View this article from the Otago Daily Times: http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/245565/job-full-time
Looking after the chicks orphaned by the mysterious deaths of adult yellow-eyed penguins on Otago Peninsula has become a full-time job.
The chicks, who have lost one or both parents, are transported to the rehabilitation centre at Penguin Place, where they are fed and looked after until they are at the optimum weight to be released back into the wild. Penguin Place resident scientist Dr Hiltrun Ratz said 30 yellow-eyed penguin chicks, plus three adults and three juveniles, were being looked after.
The recent deaths of more than 40 adult penguins on the peninsula meant many chicks on the brink of fledging needed help.
”The season had gone really well until now. It will take those colonies years to recover,” Dr Ratz said.
”They’re very lucky to have been found by us or Doc [the Department of Conservation]. We make them fat again and then let them go.”
The chance of rehabilitation was much better when the chicks were rescued while still in good condition.
As Penguin Place was looking after two snares penguins and two Fiordland crested penguins, as well as the yellow-eyeds, it was taking two hours twice a day to feed them all, Dr Ratz said.
There was also the cleaning and the two to three hours it took to cut up the 1kg of fish each bird ate a day.
Luckily, Bluff fishing company Urwin and Co Ltd had donated 2.5 tonnes of smooth dory, which had eased the burden of feeding the chicks, she said.
Posted on February 12th, 2013 No comments
View this article from the Otago Daily Times: http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/245439/penguin-deaths-devastating
The bodies of more than 40 endangered yellow-eyed penguins have been found on Otago Peninsula, raising concerns of a repeat of a ”mass mortality” event which wiped out 60% of peninsula breeding adults in 1990.
Adult penguins have been found dead at 13 of the 15 breeding sites on the peninsula during nest checks in the past three weeks.
It is not known what caused their deaths but it was suspected a marine biotoxin eaten by the penguins was the most likely cause.
Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust chairwoman Lala Frazer said it was ”absolutely devastating” and had all the hallmarks of the 1990 event, when 150 breeding adults were found dead, possibly also because of a biotoxin, but it was not known for sure.
”We’re really worried as the population has only just recovered now to being back to a viable population from that episode.”
The trust was also ”afraid it is not over yet” and could have an even greater impact on the population. The loss of adult breeding birds reduced chick numbers. Department of Conservation ranger Mel Young described the deaths as ”tragic” as the breeding season had seemed to be one of the best seasons she had seen. There were 181 nests found on Otago Peninsula this season.
Most of the dead penguins, including several juveniles and chicks, had been found near their nests or on pathways to the beach. More were believed to have died at sea or on land but whose bodies had not been found.
”This is quite hard. The adults were in excellent condition.”
About 42 bodies recovered from sites from Blackhead to Aramoana during routine end-of-season chick monitoring had been sent to Massey University for postmortems but results had been inconclusive.
Further testing of the stomach contents of the birds was being undertaken by the university’s Wildbase in association with the Cawthron Institute.
It did not appear any other Otago breeding sites had been affected.
The deaths of the adults was doubly tragic as it meant many of this season’s chicks had been left without parents to feed them, Ms Young said.
It meant chicks were losing up to 1.5kg in weight and many had been transferred to the penguin hospital at Penguin Place so they could be fed until they were at the optimum weight for releasing.
Contingency plans were being developed by the Department of Conservation and the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and would be implemented as soon as the test results became available, she said.
In the meantime, Doc and trust staff and volunteers will continue to monitor breeding sites. They urged anyone who saw distressed or dead penguins to contact Doc.
Posted on February 8th, 2013 No comments
Back in November 2012 a hardy bunch of keen volunteers joined Ranger Leith along with Jo Hiscock and others from the Department of Conservation for an expedition to the Auckland islands to survey yellow-eyed penguins. Alison Ballance was along helping with the counting, writing blogs and also recording material for a 25-minute radio story which has just aired on Our Changing World on Radio New Zealand National. To meet the people along on the trip and to get a real sense of what it was like in the field, have a listen to the audio below – it’s almost as good as being there, only warmer and without the 5 am starts!
Posted on January 21st, 2013 No comments
Two veterinary students from Massey University, Keira Macfarlane and Liz Nelson, are gaining valuable experience dealing with New Zealand wildlife, which is part of their course.
Between January 15 and 17, 2013, Keira and Liz helped Trust staff David McFarlane and Leith Thomson at Long Point, Cosgrove Creek and adjacent sites. They measured, weighed and fitted transponders to fledging yellow-eyed penguin chicks. From there, Keira and Liz will move to Otago Peninsula to spend another three days on Trust reserves.
Keira must enjoy the work because this was her second visit (the first being in January 2012). She and Liz made a valuable contribution to the conservation of yellow-eyed penguin conservation. The sometimes mucky conditions (see accompanying photographs) didn’t deter them at all!
This is the third year in which vet students have assisted Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust staff, and the Trust looks forward to further Massey students helping out in future seasons.